Levying fees on Covid-19 testing unacceptable
At a time when Bangladesh still lags behind many countries in terms of conducting aggressive testing of people, as suggested by the World Health Organization and health experts, the government's decision to levy fees on Covid-19 testing will discourage the poor people to get tested even if they show symptoms. Although the government's stance so far was to conduct Covid-19 tests at public facilities free of cost, it has changed its position now and fixed fees for conducting the tests—Tk 200 (if samples are given to dedicated sample collection booths or public hospitals) and Tk 500 (if samples are collected from home), according to a health ministry circular issued on Sunday. While none of the other South Asian countries charge any fee for the tests at their public healthcare facilities—and it is rare anywhere in the world to impose such a fee at government-run facilities—our government's decision in this regard is unfortunate.
Although the health ministry circular says that the decision has been taken "to avoid unnecessary tests and ensure better management," health experts say it will not serve the purpose and will rather be counterproductive as it will impose an additional burden on the poor who need to get tested. Also, imposing fees on testing will not stop "unnecessary tests", it will rather need professionalism and training of the service providers who can stop taking unnecessary samples by properly examining the history of those who want to get tested. Besides, at a time when the country is witnessing a continuous surge in Covid-19 deaths and infections, it is difficult to term any test as "unnecessary". It is also not understandable as to how the government would "better manage" the situation through charging fees for tests.
Considering the current upward trend of the infection rate, the government should focus on expanding its testing coverage, because increased testing is key to containing the outbreak. It should also ensure that testing is not disrupted anywhere due to a shortage of kits and a lack of bio-safety labs and skilled manpower. Levying fees on testing at this time is not a well-thought-out decision, and we hope the government will reconsider it.